Following a car accident, the victim must determine how to seek compensation for their damages. A lawsuit is one potential way to seek money, and you may want to know what the lawsuit process entails.
Steps in the Legal Process for a Car Accident Lawsuit
A car accident attorney will handle each of the steps in the car accident lawsuit process, which include:
Filing the Legal Complaint
A complaint is a legal action that triggers the lawsuit process.
Your attorney will create and file this complaint, which will:
- Present the basic facts of your accident
- Explain the basis for your pending lawsuit
- Name the defendants
- Contain certain other information specific to your case
A car accident attorney will be familiar with drafting and filing complaints, and this step in the process should be straightforward.
The Defendant’s Response to the Complaint
Your lawyer will ensure that the defendant receives service of their complaint. “Being served” means that the defendant receives formal notice from a service processor that they are the defendants in a lawsuit.
The defendant’s attorney will respond to the complaint.
Potential responses include:
- Accepting the allegations listed in the complaint
- Denying the allegations listed in the complaint
- Filing a claim against you, known as a counterclaim
- Filing a claim against a third party, known as a cross-claim
The defendant generally has a few weeks to respond to the complaint, though the presiding court may determine the reasonable response time.
The Discovery Process
Discovery is a pivotal stage in any car accident lawsuit. Both sides to a lawsuit (led by your lawyer and the defendant’s attorney) exchange case-related materials. Parties may only have to hand over materials if the other side requests them or the judge orders, so you must have a savvy attorney.
Materials exchanged during the discovery process may include:
- Medical records
- Images of injuries
- Bills for property repairs
- Testimony from qualified experts, including doctors
- Medical bills
- Any other materials that can potentially be relevant to the lawsuit
Attorneys can also ask questions of the defendant or plaintiff (called interrogatories). Depositions are in-person question-and-answer sessions given under oath and are part of some car accident lawsuits.
Note that your attorney may reach a settlement agreement with the liable parties at any point during this process. Most car accident cases do ultimately settle out of court. However, your lawyer may proceed with a trial if they cannot secure a fair settlement offer through direct negotiations, mediation, or other means.
Settlement or Trial
If your case settles after discovery, that will be the end of the lawsuit process. If your attorney does not reach a settlement with the liable parties, the trial stage will begin. Your lawyer may file pre-trial motions and take other steps in preparation for the trial and may even settle before the trial formally begins.
A trial may be a bench trial (in front of only a judge) or a jury trial. Your attorney can explain which type of trial you will face if your case reaches this stage.
During a trial, both sides may:
- Give opening statements
- Present evidence favorable to their case
- Present and question their own witnesses
- Question the other side’s witnesses
- Present and question experts
- Give closing arguments
The judge or jury will then render a verdict after deliberating.
Both the plaintiff and defendant have the right to appeal the ruling in a car accident. Appeals generally rely on a perceived legal error or perhaps the misapplication of the law by a judge.
If your car accident case reaches a stage where an appeal is necessary, they can explain whether an appeal is appropriate and the basis for such an appeal.
What Is the Legal Standard for Winning a Car Accident Lawsuit?
Negligence is the legal standard for proving liability in a car accident lawsuit. Someone is negligent when they act in a manner inconsistent with how a reasonable person should act. When someone causes a car accident, they generally act in a negligent manner.
An attorney seeking to prove negligence must:
- Establish the duty of care: The duty of care requires someone a motorist, motor vehicle manufacturer, or otherwise to act reasonably. Such reasonable action generally means doing everything possible to avoid a car accident.
- Prove a breach of the duty of care: Your lawyer will work to prove that the liable party acted unreasonably and, in doing so, breached their duty of care.
- Prove the link between the breach of duty of care and the car accident: This step may be fairly straightforward, but your lawyer will need to show that the liable party’s breach of duty of care led directly to your car accident.
- Establish the victim’s damages: Your attorney will prove that you have suffered harm because of the accident, and by extension, because of the defendant’s negligent actions.
This is the general framework for proving negligence. A lawyer must tailor this framework to fit the details of each car accident case.
Examples of Negligence That May Cause a Car Accident
While driver errors most often cause traffic accidents, they are not always the liable party. Examples of negligence by parties potentially liable for a car accident include:
Negligence by Motorists
With a single lapse in judgment or decision, a motorist can cause a car accident.
Negligent behaviors by motorists that lead to accidents include:
- Drunk driving
- Drugged driving
- Driving while tired
- Changing lanes without checking blind spots
- Running stop signs, yield signs, and red lights
- Driving while distracted
- Engaging in road rage behaviors
Motorists must be attentive, cautious, and conservative at all times. A single second of distraction or poor decision-making can cause a collision.
Negligence by Vehicle Manufacturers
Vehicles take a beating, and manufacturers must take all possible precautions to ensure their products are safe. Manufacturers of vehicle components like brakes and tires must exercise the same degree of care.
Manufacturers may be liable if a defective vehicle or component causes a car accident. Brake failures and tire blowouts are two examples of dangerous defects that can result in accidents.
Negligence by Mechanics
Motor vehicle mechanics must identify and repair any potential hazards in the vehicles they examine. If a mechanic tells a motorist that their vehicle is safe to drive when it is not safe, the mechanic can be responsible for any resulting accident.
Negligence by Municipalities
Municipalities must maintain roads.
A municipality must ensure that:
- Traffic lights are operational
- Stop, yield, and other traffic signs are in the proper position
- Roads are free of potholes, uneven surfaces, and other potential hazards
- Work crews operate in a safe manner
- Other road-related conditions are safe
Municipalities may also need to issue warnings or no-driving mandates when weather conditions are hazardous.
Lawyers consider the unique details of each car accident to determine liability. An attorney will determine who is liable for your accident.
What Car Accident Victims Should Do After Their Accident
Car accidents are unfamiliar territory for many. The path forward is not always clear, and you may need guidance. A car accident lawyer is uniquely qualified to help you.
You can hire a lawyer as soon as possible, and they will explain the next steps in your case. Whether or not you hire a lawyer, you should:
Be Cautious When It Comes to Dealing with Insurers
Insurance companies become involved in most car accident cases.
Because most states make auto insurance mandatory to drive, you may need to:
- Speak with your auto insurance provider after your accident
- File an auto insurance claim
- Make a recorded statement regarding your car accident
- Follow up about your claim
- Respond to the insurance company’s decision regarding your claim
Insurance companies do not always act in the policyholder’s best interest. In fact, insurers are beholden to one party and one party alone: the insurance company. Therefore, you should be cautious whenever you speak with your insurer.
Some general tips for dealing with an auto insurer include:
- Get a lawyer before making a recorded statement
- Never say that you are at fault for your accident
- Do not accept an insurance payment until you have reviewed it with your lawyer
Some insurance companies act in bad faith. By hiring a lawyer, you can protect yourself from such tactics.
Seek Medical Attention and Document All Care
Even if you got medical care after your car accident, consider seeking additional care.
You want to be certain that you:
- Received a diagnosis for accident-related injuries
- Protected yourself from worsening symptoms or new medical issues
- Documented all of your accident-related injuries
Liable parties may try to say that your injuries are not as serious as you claim them to be or that they are not even accident-related. By getting a thorough medical evaluation shortly after your car accident, you can prove otherwise.
Let Your Lawyer Do the Work for You
Accident victims must always prioritize their health. If you try to handle your insurance claim or lawsuit without assistance, your health may fall by the wayside. By hiring a lawyer, you retain someone whose job is to get compensation for car accident victims. You also allow yourself to focus on rest and treatment.
What Car Accident Lawyers Do for Crash Victims
Car accident attorneys manage every detail of insurance claims and lawsuits. Clients judge their lawyers based on whether the attorneys get the money the client deserves.
A lawyer’s responsibilities in a car accident case typically include:
- Determining liability: Before a lawyer can fight for compensation, they must determine who owes their client compensation. Your attorney will weigh the facts of your case to identify all liable parties.
- Documenting accident-related damages: Your attorney will work to prove the damages you’ve suffered because of your car accident. From medical records to bills for vehicle repairs, your lawyer will seek every piece of documentation that supports your case for compensation.
- Seeking a settlement: Attorneys represent their clients in settlement negotiations. These negotiations are high stakes, as an attorney can get their client the money they deserve if they are successful.
Most car accident cases do not go to trial. However, if yours does, your attorney will handle the trial process too. Stages in a civil trial include opening arguments, discovery, cross-examination, and closing arguments.
What Do Car Accident Victims Seek in a Lawyer?
Car accident victims hire lawyers who help injured clients in similar situations.
Ideally, the car accident victim will find a lawyer who:
- Has the backing of a firm will substantial financial resources
- Has a track record of substantial recoveries for other car accident victims
- Has a long history of practicing personal injury law
- Primarily handles car accident cases
- Has positive client testimonials
- Exudes capability, confidence, and care for the client during your consultation
Free consultations are an important resource for clients who are looking for a lawyer. These are no-cost calls, during which a prospective client can ask a law firm questions. This call may give you a better idea of the law firm’s credentials and client service.
What Damages Do Car Accident Lawyers Seek Compensation For?
Though each car accident victim has unique injuries and damages, there is overlap in the types of damages that result from motor vehicle accidents.
Recoverable damages often include:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Lost income
- Lost productivity
- Lost earning power
- The cost of vehicle repairs
- Temporary transportation expenses
Some car accidents tragically result in wrongful death. In these cases, recoverable damages may include funeral costs, lost financial support, lost companionship, and other damages.
You don’t have to guess when it comes to accident-related damages or their cost. You can hire a lawyer to identify and calculate your damages.
Seek an Attorney in Your Area Today to Get Justice for a Car Accident
A car accident lawyer may begin to work on your car accident case today. Do not wait to get help, as there may be a deadline for filing a lawsuit or claim.
The sooner you hire a top-rated Florida personal injury law firm‘s lawyer, the sooner you can direct your entire focus on recovery.